It's Day Two of my bus journey across the capital, riding four consecutive routes from the northern edge of the capital to the south. Today, lots of famous bits, and a crossing of the Thames.
ACROSS LONDON BY BUS(ii)
Route 76: Tottenham - Waterloo Length of journey: 8 miles, 70 minutes
I'm starting my second journey at a bus stop called Tottenham Town Hall, not that Tottenham has a town hall any more, the building in question having recently been rebranded The Dream Centre (for Conferences, Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Gala Dinners etc). Thankfully I'm not stopping. My next bus is already coming round the corner as I step off my first, and what joy, it's one of those overheating New Routemasters Boris wanted to be remembered by. Don't worry, I had the sense not to make this journey on one of the hotter days of the week. The top deck front seat is mine, indeed the top deck front seat is going to be mine on every journey I take, which is particularly excellent news for narrative perspective.
The High Road is briefly six lanes wide as it careers down to the major junction at Seven Sisters. I spy the 279 I've just alighted from turning off down the Seven Sisters Road, in the shadow of a single concrete liftshaft rising 23 numbered storeys into the sky. By 2020 this'll be Apex House, a residential tower far taller than Haringey is used to, and precisely the kind of thing councils turn their Customer Service departments into nowadays. We're going straight ahead, beneath the railway bridge at South Tottenham, which I notice is six inches higher if you believe the warning sign on the bridge rather than the sign by the roadside.
My first travelling companions are a well-fed trio who, thankfully, spread back to the second row rather than squidge in fully alongside. The largest man's Givenchy-sponsored football top is of such girth that I bet no professional player has even worn one in his size. The bus is now climbing the first hill on my journey, which isn't yet Stamford Hill but leads to the suburb of the same name. The area's Jewish residents are much in evidence, some sporting traditional kippahs, but considerably more the high-crowned black hats worn by the local Hasidic community. A ghost sign on a dirty brick wall promises Costumes To Order, including "Mourning Wear Promptly Measured". Another more modern sign for a minimarket advertises "Polish and Brazilian Products", because these days every niche counts.
From behind me comes the unwelcome sound of my journey's first unplugged video, which some self-centred passenger is evidently enjoying. At the foot of Stamford Hill we're sent off on a tour of the Stoke Newington one-way system, where I see with sadness that punning white goods store Sellfridges has now completely disappeared, not simply renamed itself for copyright reasons. For balance, the West Hackney Recreation Ground now has a circular labyrinth at its heart. As we round the common I notice a strong smell which my nose is convinced must be urine, but my brain reminds me is almost certainly the bus itself, this model being notorious for olfactory pollutant.
We return to the High Road in the midst of a concentration of Turkish restaurants and takeaways. I've been watching for signs of gentrification since Waltham Cross and essentially seen nothing, but as we nudge towards Shacklewell and Dalston the first signs of affluence very gradually appear. The Hackney Peddler would never survive in Ponders End, even with a change of name, while Pelicans & Parrots is targeting a market Upper Edmonton could never support. Harvest E8 is the journey's first hipster eaterie, quickly outdone by La Petit Bretagne, and blimey there's an M&S Simply Food beneath the newbrick apartments at Dalston Kingsland. But thankfully the majority of what lines these streets remains raw and real, and long may it remain.
The bus station behind Dalston Junction has become slightly less useless since the 277 was curtailed to stop there too, I note, but the 76 continues to roll straight past. Instead it turns right, making the first break from the road I've been travelling down since Waltham Cross, to follow the considerably more minor Englefeld Road. This plies through the heart of De Beauvoir Town, a gorgeous neighbourhood of late Victorian villas laid out along spacious geometrical avenues. We pass a garden centre and a craft beer dispensary, then the De Beauvoir Arms and the De Beauvoir Deli, as if we've suddenly entered a different world. You will never live here unless you do already.
Ooh, it's the Regents Canal, which we briefly run immediately alongside to reinforce the allure of a waterside setting. A digital sign on the bridge smiles at us for doing less than 20mph, which it would be difficult to exceed because the traffic lights are on red. Hackney council remain very proud of their three year-old speed limit, and have hung banners praising it from the majority of lampposts. Past Shoreditch Park the vista ahead becomes a peculiar mix of Victorian brick and jagged glass shards, as the despoliation of the City Road continues apace. Dozens of builders are enjoying a lunchbreak on the kerb beneath the latest steel skeleton, which promises future residents concierge facilities and a studio gym. The transition to upstart London is swift indeed.
Wham, we're out onto the Old Street Roundabout (which still is a roundabout, for now, but is scheduled to be de-circulated soon). One corner has already been reborn as the White Collar Factory, which is the kind of travesty which occurs when a burgeoning digital cluster disappears up its own artifice. Nobody earlier in the journey ever needed an Oliver Bonas, but here's one flouting its wares opposite the peace of Bunhill Fields. Finsbury Square appears to be half covered by picknicking workers listening to a brass band, and half covered by a bowling green on which a single intense match is taking place. Welcome to summertime in the City.
Moorgate station, whose new entrance still isn't looking anywhere near complete, is the single point where my Crossbus journey crosses the arc of Crossrail. It's one o'clock, so the pavements hereabouts are thronging with city workers on a quest to find yet another meal which isn't a sandwich. The men are all in white, blue or pink unbuttoned shirts, pushed out either by a pectoral bulge or a beery paunch, depending on their preferred choice of after-work activity. Further staff continue to pour out from modern office blocks overlaid on the site of countless generations of commerce. A few older buildings survive closer to the centre, many of them banks, and one of them the Bank.
Bank junction is supposed to be closed to all but buses and bikes, not that this appears to stop cars, vans and minicabs from sneaking through, and hopefully being slapped by a £65 ticket. Our bus should be heading down Queen Victoria Street, but that's blocked one-way for longterm roadworks, so the on-board display flashes up * for diversion and we tackle Cheapside instead. It too is seething, if not quite so well dressed. Some punters queue for the £4 meal deal at Deli Box, while others are shelling out considerably more on coffee pods in the Nespresso boutique. A Cheapside Ambassador, resplendent in blue-banded bowler hat, checks his phone while he waits for a passer-by to find him useful.
Back on line of route at St Paul's Cathedral, my fellow front seat passengers are getting almost as good a view as those passing in open-topped sightseeing buses, but for a fraction of the fare. I count seven tour buses going the other way before we reach the foot of Ludgate Hill, one with a man holding a selfie stick aloft, filming himself giving a running commentary into his phone. On Fleet Street we pass a man clutching a pile of legal files wrapped in pink ribbon, and a Big Issue seller snuck in beside the alleyway down to the Temple. And at Aldwych my yakking neighbours finally alight, which means I have the top deck to myself on the final leg over the Thames.
The view from Waterloo Bridge is fantastic, as you'd expect, looking out across the bend in the river towards the City or the Palace of Westminster. The bus stop on the southern side of the bridge remains closed as a result of 'temporary' barriers introduced as a safety measure last year, and has been replaced by an underused dolly stop further along. The IMAX cinema at the Waterloo roundabout is wrapped in a giant advert for Deliveroo, rather than the latest blockbuster. We turn right onto York Road, along the drab edge of the mainline station, and I have to remember to alight at the penultimate stop because that's where my third bus departs. North London complete, South London to go. 77>>